Desiring to make a positive difference in the world, Dorothea E. de Zafra-Atwell has led a long and distinguished career in public service. She was inspired by the work of then-President John F. Kennedy and the encouragement of her parents to enter the field, and the rest was history. Upon finding her path, Ms. de Zafra-Atwell enhanced her professional standing by earning a Bachelor of Arts in non-Western civilizations from the University of Rochester in 1963 and a Master of Science in public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh in 1965. She also became credentialed as a long-term care ombudsman and completed an advanced management program in information resources through the National Defense University.
Degrees in hand, Ms. de Zafra-Atwell quickly made a name for herself amongst her peers. She started out as a New England regional executive with the World University Service from 1965 to 1967 and as a study abroad program assistant with the City University of New York in Queens from 1967 to 1969. The 1970s saw Ms. de Zafra-Atwell join the U.S. Public Health Service, where she transitioned between positions like management intern, legislative and policy analyst, Privacy Act officer, health agencies information practices program developer, and information system security progressive manager over the course of more than two decades. Although she experienced gender-based discrimination, she persevered and achieved excellence everywhere she went. One of the highlights of Ms. de Zafra-Atwell’s career was leading a federal inter-agency work group that brought to fruition the first government-wide training standards in information systems security across civilian agencies with a model-learning continuum for implementation. This achievement had a significant impact on the effectiveness of information technology supporting government functions.
The final role Ms. de Zafra Atwell filled before her retirement in 2002 was science education program director for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She started with the organization in 1995, and was responsible for managing all aspects of the contracting process for the development and field testing of science education curriculum supplements related to alcohol abuse and alcoholism, rendering equal employment opportunity counseling and managerial diversity training, and conducting policy studies and program reviews.
Ms. de Zafra-Atwell loved her career, but was prompted to retire by two life-changing events: her marriage to a retiree and the need for her to take power of attorney and assume responsibility for her aged mother. Her experiences with both new undertakings led her to discover a passion for the new movement of aging consciously and creatively, and for elder-care reform and advocacy. Without professional responsibilities, she was free to pursue these interests at her leisure, and has since devoted her time to related charitable efforts. Ms. de Zafra-Atwell currently serves on the Lifelong Learning Advisory Council for her undergraduate alma mater, the University of Rochester, where she has been involved in developing and facilitating workshops on care giving and end-of-life planning, and leading an ongoing interest group in creative aging. Further, throughout 2011, Ms. de Zafra-Atwell served as a volunteer long-term care ombudsman for Montgomery County, Md., improving the quality of life for residents of an assisted-living facility. Looking to the future, she aspires to serve on career panels in schools and colleges, deliver lectures, and serve on boards and advisory committees of nonprofit and academic organizations in a senior consulting capacity. She feels a strong responsibility to promote civic literacy in schools, make students aware of the importance of public service careers and mentor the next generation of professionals.
To keep in touch with her network of peers, Ms. de Zafra-Atwell has maintained affiliation with the American Society for Public Administration and the American Society of Access Professionals. She has also served on the executive board of the Council of Former Federal Executives, on the leadership council of the Pitt Alumni Association, and on the executive board of the Federal Computer Security Program Managers’ Forum.
Using her extensive experience in her field, Ms. de Zafra-Atwell authored “Personal Steps to a Healthy Choice: A Women’s Guide,” “Identification of At-Risk Drinking and Intervention with Women of Child-Bearing Age: A Guide for Primary Care Providers,” and “Identification and Care of Fetal Alcohol-Exposed Children: A Guide for Primary Care Providers,” both for the National Institutes of Health. She also co-authored various publications and case studies.
In recognition of her array of accomplishments and achievements, Ms. de Zafra-Atwell received the Equal Opportunity Employment Special Achievement Award, the Educator of the Year Award from the Federal Information Systems Security Educators’ Association, the Federal 100 Award from “Federal Computer Week Magazine,” and the Exemplary Service Award from the Assistant Secretary for Health. Additionally, she was honored to be the commencement speaker at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh in 2006.
When Ms. de Zafra-Atwell has free time, she enjoys hobbies like traveling for educational purposes and studying archaeology. Notably, she has helped to excavate an archaeological site on the grounds of Civil War General Robert E. Lee’s childhood home in Alexandria, Va, and has cleaned and processed found artifact fragments at the city's archaeological laboratory. In Copán, Honduras, she volunteered with the Earthwatch Institute teams at the temple ruins on the Acropoli, where she was involved in cleaning, photographing, cataloging and moving fallen carved stone blocks to assist the archaeologists in arranging and articulating the original iconography. Dating to the classical period of the Mayan civilization, Copán has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is popularly known as “the Athens of the New World."